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Sometimes in life it takes awhile to find the place where you belong… to figure out what you were meant to do and carve out your own niche in the world.

Clarence Samuels probably would’ve told you he’d had that covered when he became a professional singer in the mid-1940’s but in truth he was only halfway there, because he wasn’t a very good singer when he started.

He had the right attitude and a powerful voice but no idea of how to tailor it to suit the material. The more he tried to keep overpowering each song he tackled the more it looked as though he’d never learn.

Until finally one day he did.

Upon landing at Freedom Records in early 1950 Samuels found that by working with far more talented musicians who crafted arrangements for his songs that took advantage of his booming over-the-top deliveries rather than fought against them he was actually capable of impressing you rather than intimidating, insulting or offending you with his performances.

The songs were still pretty crude, the vocals weren’t all that much more nuanced than they’d ever been, but suddenly they were framed in a way that made everything fit together.


Turn Up All The Lights
New Orleans and Houston aren’t that far apart and certainly had a somewhat open line of musical communication between the two Gulf Coast cities in the Mid-Twentieth Century but how much true awareness there was between musicians about their counterparts in the other city isn’t known.

It’s entirely possible, even likely, that singers from one port were taking up brief residencies in the other to play the clubs in that town and so it’s certainly conceivable that Conrad Johnson and company had heard of, seen or perhaps even backed up Clarence Samuels on stage while he was in Houston, but it’s not a sure thing.

Listening to their work together in the studio however you’d have to assume they were intimately familiar with one another because these guys discovered a way to do what no other studio band had ever been able to do on record with him which was to make the songs gel.

In the past Samuels was usually paired with groups far too tame for his style, yet as bad as that could come off sounding, there was also a risk if you had a band vying to slug it out with him resulting in the whole session collapsing into chaos.

But on Somebody Got To Go we get exactly what we’ve been after, a rough and tumble act paired with a group that may have had plenty of experience playing seedy dives across the tracks, but also had enough brains to know how to scale it back just enough to keep it presentable.

It Ain’t Gonna Be Me
Virtually all Clarence Samuels records should come with a printed warning: “Likely To Offend”. But while there are definitely aspects about this story that are troubling when taken literally, the last few times around with him he gives the impression that he’s more bark than bite and if anything his threats are merely done to boost his self-esteem and compensate for his own shortcomings.

That said though, you could definitely find this off-putting and despite its musical strengths – and even the more measured delivery of Samuels at times – you might not want to grant him the benefit of the doubt considering some of his past transgressions. If so, that’s perfectly understandable.

But when assessing the lyrics of Somebody Got To Go from a psychological standpoint you’ll come to realize that he’s really just venting here to alleviate his heartache. Having been devoted to this girl whom Clarence would literally have done anything and everything for – all of which he lays out in detail lest there was any doubt of his sincerity – he wound up getting dumped anyway and now is headed down to the local watering hole they used to frequent together to have it out with her.

Though we have to admonish him for the vague death threats he’s making, it has to be said that he appears to be looking for sympathy more than vengeance by the way in which he’s announcing his intentions in mournful drawn-out declarations.

Clearly by everything he goes on to tell us he was incredibly hurt by her rejection and he’s hoping those around town who knew how devoted he was to her will have his back – emotionally speaking, not in terms of providing an alibi, a place to hide or a ride out of town before the posse forms should this verbal tussle turn into a physical altercation.

By the end of the song he thankfully hasn’t laid a hand on her, nor even confronted her, and he’s still trying to elicit some pity for his sorry plight, all of which makes for a much neater conclusion than having to try and get those stubborn blood stains out of your shirt after maiming your ex in a barroom melee.


I Stay Home Everyday
Wisely the band doesn’t try encourage Samuels during any of this slow-burn diatribe by stepping on the gas and getting him revved up in the process, yet they also don’t make the mistake of soft-peddling the arrangement and encouraging him to oversell his emotions just to make his points.

Instead they manage to give their accompaniment some bite while still keeping it relatively low-key in terms of explosiveness.

The reason for this – aside from their skill – is found in their choice of instrumentation. Whereas in the past Samuels was too often paired with instruments better suited to an earlier form of music entirely, say big band jazz, on Somebody Gotta Go they have all the right pieces to rock and deploy them efficiently starting with Goree Carter’s delicate but still potent guitar lines behind Samuels’ vocals.

The saxophones jump in during the stop-time section providing a different type of musical bed for him to sing over and when the instrumental break comes you might be expecting a little more excitement than you get, but playing it cool was the right move to make because it doesn’t throw the song out of balance. Instead you get a solo that takes its time, squeezing notes out slow and easy, heightening the tension while behind it you get some of the spastic energy you want from some really good drum work and Carter’s guitar making regular incursions without distracting you from the horn’s moment in the spotlight.

None of the backing is really designed to stand out, but what DOES stand out is how under control it is while still keeping you on edge. Even Clarence Samuels himself, never prone to easing off the throttle even in the best of situations, winds up the song by deftly shifting down on his final line which shows that he did indeed have more subtlety up his sleeve than we ever would’ve guessed.

Oh Yeah, I Mean It
Though this can’t live up to either of his first two singles on Freedom Records it might actually be the most impressive of everything he did there, at least when it comes to upending our long held expectations regarding his approach.

After all, his best sides, Lost My Head and She Walk – She Walk – She Walk, were kind of what we always think we’re going to get from him each time out, only they were done with more precision than he usually had which naturally produced much better results.

But Somebody Gotta Go surprises us because it takes a basic topic he was comfortable with, then slows it down, forcing him to ease back on his delivery while the band sits comfortably in the pocket with him the whole way, providing him with a much different feel than we’re used to out of him..

It’s intended to be more modest than his usual fare and if that means it’s not as ear-catching, eye-popping and head-turning as those earlier efforts we can’t fault him for finally proving to us that he’s got some versatility to his game after all.

For what it sets out to do this gets the job done just fine. It may not be what you like best about Clarence Samuels but coming up with a change of pace every once in awhile is never a bad thing and when it’s pulled off as capably as this it’s hard to complain.


(Visit the Artist page of Clarence Samuels for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)